you’re making me anxious / cigar-tin stories number sixty two

Read a story in The New York Times Magazine about anxious kids –– not the usual Smiths-type anxiety but the I’m-not-going-to-school-anymore category, or what I’d call nuclear grade, in that once you stop leaving the house, or indeed your room, then everything is obliterated. It reminds me of the Hikikomori, the Japanese kids who shut themselves away (parents leaving dinner plates at the door, etc). My question was: okay, but what happens when these kids turn 18, 19, 20? 35? Do they never leave? And what happens when the parents die? C says there’s always someone else, some aunt or brother or church, but I wonder.


I’ve always had all sorts of anxiety; a grade four teacher once told me flat out that I’d kill myself if I didn’t stop worrying. Any kind of public event, in particular, can be a psychic wrecking ball of stress, at least until the event actually happens. But it was never an option to just not do it, or to stop doing everything.


Occasionally, we must do difficult things.


At the dentist (always at the dentist), getting two ‘repairs’ and one cavity addressed. “I don’t even know if you’ll need freezing,” the dentist comments, warming up her drills. This makes me anxious. The work is all near the gum line, which *might* lead to some sensitivity. “Would you like some freezing?” she asks. I shrug. Do I look like a guy who studied dentistry?


It reminds me of the conversation I had with the emergency ophthalmologist, who gave me the choice of the gas bubble + laser or full-blown surgery. “You tell me,” I said. “You’re an ophthalmologist. I’m just some guy who barely understands the problem.”


So I get the freezing. More needles, but at least these are in my gums instead of my eyeball.


If I never went to the dentist, I would never hear Foreigner or Def Leppard again. It’s always the radio in these places, and it’s always bad radio, as if life’s worst aspects are the only thing we can agree on.


A friend says all she does is dream and shop. “That’s a good t-shirt,” I reply.


Friday night at the studio and C texts me a link to the news that my express bus home cannot take its usual route home, that in fact it’s detouring all over hell’s half acre because the construction on Front Road is retarded. Great, I text back. Accordingly, the bus is fifteen minutes late. I ask the driver about my stop. “Oh, it gets there eventually!” he cackles. “What, like forty minutes?” I ask. “Who knows, buddy! Who knows!” Great. What are you, an extra in a Kids in the Hall skit? Everyone onboard is totally fucking confused as the bus careens around the west end of Kingston. Amazingly, we arrive at my stop at roughly the designated time. “You’re almost caught up,” I comment on the way out. “Almost, buddy! Almost!” he brays.


Darryl
Sorry to bother you.
We found an error on the poster. The one we needed ASAP on October 3rd, the one we kept bugging you and bugging you about, and you stayed late to print all those copies.
On the side of one of the logos (the tiny one in the bottom-left corner), there is a ‘le’ where there should be a ‘la’. Yes, I know, you can’t really see it, but still.
Could you make the change and then reprint a million copies at forty-eight different sizes?
Thanks!


Hi Darryl,
I made a mistake when I said the project was approved. My manager says the date might change, and there’s a meeting on November 4th for this, so I will let you know at that point if the date is to change. Sorry about the confusion! Guess we didn’t need it right away after all!
Sorry!
Have a good day
Sorry!


Hey Darryl
Had a meeting and someone pointed out that the guy on the cover of the brochure isn’t in the program anymore, so we need to cancel the printing and redo the cover with a more current student. Do you have any pictures of current students?
We need this ASAP.
HAVE A GOOD DAY


DARRYL
LDSAHFKJADSHD
ZZLKZZL;KJTTTZZZZZZTTTTTT
ASAP


Because I carry a small magical box that tells me what to do, I dutifully download the newest update for my iPhone. Now it makes strange crackling noises, and randomly crashes, and performs weird tricks like turning the text upside-down if I try to use a photo filter while listening to a podcast. When it starts randomly texting me ASAP and SORRY over and over again, its mission will be complete.


Another week, another painting. This one is called The Traveller. I like its sense of wonder and relinquishment, and how the figure works with the map background.

Have a great week everyone,
djb

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

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… but the sky is empty.

large paintings in my studio

A short video of large paintings in my studio (and online store) as of August 1st, 2017. I want to make more of these kinds of things, as much for my own memory (it doesn’t take long to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve sold where) as anything else.


The title of this post comes from a Sylvia Plath quotation: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” It fits well with the first painting I’ve done since getting back from holidays ––and back into the studio this past Sunday, called The Doubter.

The Doubter; mixed media, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches, cradled wood panel.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes: “I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.”

I doubt almost everything these days. I turn on the radio and hear impossible things – Los Angeles actually wanting the 2028 Summer Olympics (please see the smoking economic ruins of Athens, Rio, et al) or the son of an American president taking hotel-room meetings with Russians. What to eat, what not to eat (right now fasting seems to be a thing), how to exercise, what to read, what to wear, how to get rich. As I get older I seem to have embraced a kind of blankness, as if the noise of the world was smoke, and the only real thing behind it is the idea that I should stick to my own plans.


But I did have a good holiday, in that crooked little cottage overlooking the Northumberland Strait. Two weeks was enough: I read four books, took innumerable naps, walked in the ocean, hit golf balls with a wedge from sandbar to sandbar, up and down the shore. But I always fill up with schemes and intention while on holiday, so it’s good to be back, and we’ll see how we do.

The heart of a maiden is a dark forest.

themaiden2x

themaiden1x

The Maiden; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches.


Second blonde in a row for me, while still on this kick of icons (martyrs, idols, demigods, characters more poster than real) in a larger format. But the ideas for working small are creeping in, too.


Strange times. I look at the news and see spidery arrangements in lies and advertising. Of course the broken centre of this is the president of the United States, a character so blurry and appalling as to not seem real. Which, in a way, he is not. It seems even within the confines of his own skull he is not. The cultural historian Patrick Wright once described him as

A smudged deadbeat left over from the Reagan era … and propped up in a temporary kind of way by ailing US and Japanese banks that couldn’t afford to let him expire completely … If Trump was in the White House which, as he was rash enough to hint in those undiminished days, he might well be before too long, then he could follow the examples of Presidents Reagan and Harding, and look for astrological anchorage in the stars.

Or Twitter. That was in 1991. I guess this is the logical wreckage of neoliberalism, of the the triumph of markets and money and branded individualism above all. Trump speaks the language of reality television, which is really very simple: promise anything to anyone, and otherwise say whatever you need to say to confuse the issue, while advancing spaces in your mind. Even on TV this is sometimes dubious.


My attention to this is sporadic, at best. All I can do is work. There are really very few things I am any good at. I hope painting is one of them.

june is no summer at all

someabsencesinmyknowledgeofreality5x

someabsencesx

Or at least it hasn’t been –– just gloom and humidity, with intermissions of wind and rain. An impression of weak sun, here and there. WAKE UP.

Summer is hard on the artist. Rounding the corner into July, which announces itself as SUMMER in the same way that Godzilla enters a room –– no matter what the weather, YOU WILL HAVE FUN, YOU MUST BE HAVING FUN –– one can almost feel the psychic descent that takes place, as all plans go out the window, and the notion of work becomes a mannequin heaved to the sidewalk. All around you, all the time, nothing is getting done.

But art doesn’t like to be picked up and discarded at one’s convenience. Certainly, there are ebbs and flows, but ‘breaks’ have a certain price tag attached –– muscles not used, imagination in decay.

For me, the fact that I have a studio that I pay for exclusively with proceeds from my visual art and writing demands that I use it consistently and effectively. It means discipline. It means going in there regularly and making something from nothing.

I have two weeks coming up where I should get to do a lot of work in a hurry. Wish me luck.

The Reverie

the_reverie1x

The Reverie; mixed media, cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches. More pictures here.

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A Sunday trip to the library morphs into a broken conversation with a shrugging security guard about a locked door –– “It’s summer hours,” she explains. “But you can still use the book return!” Hooray. So Oona and I wander the mall for awhile, waiting on mom to do some shopping. Almost instantly I find myself in Claire’s, where I get conned into buying a two-piece charm bracelet that reads BEST FRIENDS. “I’ll make my bed, daddy,” Oona lies, because that’s her currency instead of money. I shrug. I give in. BEST FRIENDS. Then we wander some more. Everyone looks like extras from a pirate movie; there are limps, eye patches, tattoos, blindness, crutches, more blindness, hips where hips don’t belong, brown and blue teeth, horizontal facial scars, missing fingers, invented hairstyles, ballooning outfits with stars on them. The psychic weight is crushing.

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Halfway through my morning shower, the water pressure falls by half and my entire world view reasserts itself, comes into focus: people are going to do what they are going to do. Certainly I can storm upstairs, half-soaped and fully crazed, and ask, Are we all done running water yet? Certainly right is right. But where does that kind of thinking get me? Right is never right. These days, ‘right’ is more of a shrug. The whole reason I get up first in the morning, long before anyone else, is to go around problems like this. And going around these things, I think, is the key. A guy comes into my office with some marked-up photocopy of a job that I’ve never seen and says, I don’t have any of the text or pictures for this, how long will it take to do? Certainly, How about never? feels about right. But then he’s going lose his nut, and sooner than later I’ll have my manager in my office, bursting at the hairline trying to manage something. So I say, Leave it with me, let me take a better look at it, I’m just having some computer issues right now, and I just have this other job to finish first, there’s this thing with this other person tomorrow, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can. And then I take a long lunch, and leave early, and the day after that I’m on holiday for a week.

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Listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!, and the interlude music is some Ani DiFranco song, I might as well be in a dream where it’s 1999 and I’m sitting in front of a red velour curtain in some musty theatre in Winnipeg, and some girl with ripped jeans and dirty hair is explaining to me how wrong I am about everything, and how I really need to read the I Ching and get my teeth fixed.

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I need to start running again. For months this winter I trained for the Limestone 5K, all the way from only being able to run 90 seconds at a time to going the entire distance without pause. I ran every second day, without fail. I ran when there was no one else out there, often late at night, in the cold and the dark. And on the morning of April 30th, in freezing rain, I ran the race. Ta-dah. And then we went to Cuba for a week. And then: June. Goals have a way of deflating themselves.

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It’s the staff barbecue so I take the day off. I believe that work is meant to be work –– not a place to fulfill your dreams, not a place to make best friends, not a place where people know anything about you, not even a place to score free hotdogs. The ideal situation is to be the polite person at the end of the hall with a job description that coworkers don’t understand or care about. Also, if management wants to show me how much they care, then please spend that hotdog money on institutional improvements. How about clean bathrooms? How about coffee in the kitchen? How about air-conditioning? How many mission statements read like conspiracy theory. Anyway, excellence now!

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No real plan in the studio lately. I’d been set to move out –– briefly, there had been a person known to police in the studio next door –– and then the situation resolved itself, and it was if some kind of reset button had been pushed. So I’ve been painting large paintings, with a mind for icons and characters. All painting is therapy, and the works themselves just relics for the cult of beautiful but pointless posterity.

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People walking around downtown in two of three dimensions on a Friday night and I think, Is it Mental Health Week again? Forever? In Kingston, at least. A woman tells me that Jesus loves me. Another is swearing at her two chihuahuas. At least they’re on a leash. The people in front of the McDonalds look like the Apple Dumpling Gang on opioids. Purple gums, yellow fingers.

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It’s summer, I guess. Men walking around in shorts, white chicken leg embarrassment. The women on the cover of the magazines by the checkout have lustrous dark hair parted straight down the middle, their hairlines an inch above the eyebrow. People squinting at things. More humidity than heat. Oona has a final ‘play’ for her acting class; the teachers say the lines for the kids, then the kids repeat them. I guess that’s how we do things now.

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large paintings, lately

howdistressingitwas_howgloriousandradiantandmineforever1x

how distressing it was … how glorious and radiant and mine forever; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches. *sold*

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So I’m back to big paintings again. This seems to happen from time to time, in the same way that sometimes I only want to work with small things, to create art objects. Still, paintings are different. They are not art objects. Their size, their presence in a room, is a thing unto itself. A painting never needs to be explained.

 

thelittlequeenx

thelittlequeen4x

The Little Queen, VII; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches. *sold*

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I think you can grow tired of the fussiness of little work, of art objects. Things needing tags. Whereas with a painting, you walk into a room and go to work and don’t come out until you have something. You treat it roughly. Something is made from nothing, and there’s an interrogation along the way.

 

thesummer1x

thesummer3x

The Summer, XIX; an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches, here.

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By its very nature, a painting reaches for the iconic. So I’ve been thinking in those terms –– about symbolic things, as if a painting could be a missing card from the Major Arcana.

 

theworld1x

theworld5x

theworld3x

The World, XXI; an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches, here.

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Anyway, it’s all that I want to do right now, so it better work. And isn’t that the last words of any artist?

yesterday is a fortune teller

yesterday-is-a-fortune-teller_wordpressx

yesterday is a fortune teller with blood on her hands / ink painting on found paper / 6 x 9 inches / the blank inside title page from an old book


Lately, I’ve been thinking about time, about how to make it, or gain on it, when it constantly conspires against you. We all dream of getting up earlier or staying up later, of going to the gym and getting fit or writing some novel over lunch. But there’s a reason the marine ranks are made of children.


The Four of Cups features prominently in a scene from Blood Meridian; it is the card chosen by the Kid, reflecting his divided nature.